Canadian Packaging

Incorporating sustainable attributes into pharmaceutical packaging

Asia Pulp and Paper Group (APP) North American director of sustainability & stakeholder relations Ian Lifshitz takes an Insider's look at sustainability and packaging pharmaceuticals.


July 6, 2015
by Ian Lifshitz, North American director of sustainability & stakeholder relations, Asia Pulp and Paper Group (APP)

Today’s consumers are increasingly aware that their consumption has an environmental impact. This is why many consumers are beginning to critically assess environmental sustainability—not just of the purchased product, but also its packaging.

In fact, in a survey conducted for APP Canada in late 2014, 82 percent of Canadians stated that they are influenced to purchase paper and packaging products based on their sustainable attributes.

As a result, brands and companies must do more to demonstrate environmental sustainability; they must provide consumers convincing and verified information to demonstrate that a product has been produced or packaged in a way that considers its environmental impact.

Historically, pharmaceutical companies have focused on production and supply chain costs, not on their environmental footprint. The pressure for greater transparency, combined with a projected increase in pharmaceutical sales, has resulted in companies examining their own corporate social responsibility plans.

For the pharmaceutical industry, this self-reflection translates into, among other things, how to smartly use sustainable packaging and materials with the ultimate goal of reducing packaging overall.

The complexities of the governments’ patient safety and regulations for labels on pharmaceuticals makes the use of sustainable packaging even more challenging. Companies must meet consumers’ expectations, governments’ regulations, and high quality standards.

Multiple Challenges of Pharmaceutical Packaging

There are unique needs that the pharma industry faces in packaging including: unit-dose control, combating counterfeit drugs, finding non-invasive barrier testing methods and required child-resistant packaging.

Most importantly, government regulations serve to protect patients from contaminated prescriptions.

Any changes to the well-established procedures for labeling are met with caution, as the manufacturing process has been carefully designed to meet or exceed policy requirements for patients’ health and safety.

Calendar-style packs are one example of moving towards an environmentally-friendly approach. The packaging is conducive to dose control prescriptions, containing one pill per designated blister, each of which are identified with the days of the week. Perhaps more importantly, the material of the packs is made with a much easier to recycle paperboard, not the traditional plastic resin.

As the calendar packs demonstrate, solutions to multifaceted packaging problems will be found in innovations in material and design, as well as  sustainable means of developing them.

Executing Sustainable Practices in Pharmaceutical Packaging

Pharma companies must commit to the broader environmental picture in order to meet the growing demands for sustainability. Although this shift will likely require upfront investments in resources and time, the resulting increase in customer loyalty and sales make the journey worthwhile. Bearing the long term goals in mind, strategists should consider:

  • Sustainability Plan: Develop a sustainability plan and/or execute an evaluation process to assess overall practices in manufacturing and the supply chain. This process includes examining resource management and waste reduction to find ways to limit the environmental impact by using new technologies to cut time and energy in production.
  • Use Eco-Friendly Materials: To achieve sustainable and high-quality pharma packaging, companies should incorporate smart manufacturing by using eco-friendly, biodegradable materials like recycled paper, cardboard and corn starch. In addition, using unbleached paperboard, fewer ink colors and lighter or thinner paper can have a positive impact.
  • Innovation: Smart manufacturing practices support sustainability in healthcare packaging across the full package lifecycle. For instance, DuPont’s Tyvek, a brand of flashspun high-density polyethylene fiber, prevents microbial infiltration and is compatible with sterilization techniques. Using this fiber to keep drugs sterile helps avoid wasteful damage of drugs during transport and storage. Tyvek’s strength also allows for packaging designs that weigh less, take less space and are recyclable.
  • Quantity of Packaging: Reducing packaging quantities is the most effective means of decreasing pharma packaging’s environmental impact. It has the added benefit of helping the bottom line by saving companies from the extra production costs of excess packaging.

By examining the entirety of the packages’ lifecycle, and partnering with innovators, designers and manufacturers, sustainable outcomes are more likely at all levels of production.

The Future of Sustainable and High-Quality Pharmaceutical Packaging

Sustainable, high-quality pharma packaging relies on development and action throughout all levels of an organization’s supply chain. It also requires greater integration and collaboration between manufacturers and their packaging suppliers to promote sustainability. By using biodegradable resources, such as paperboard and cardboard, organizations can meet the demands of both safety compliance and sustainable packaging.

Innovation is the gateway to providing solutions for more eco-conscious packaging. R&D departments and engineers will all be critical in the future of pharma packaging and leading new designs and procedures. Ultimately, investment in a more sustainable model by pharma companies will improve the bottom line through increased customer satisfaction.

All transitions are challenging, especially ones which involve complex regulations and supply chain management. However, it’s important to recognize that this paradigm shift will benefit the pharma industry, others who also produce packaging, patient health and safety—and importantly, our environment.

Ian Lifshitz is North American director of sustainability & stakeholder relations at Asia Pulp and Paper Group (APP), the world’s second largest pulp and paper company. To learn more about APP’s community initiatives and sustainability efforts, visit the website at www.asiapulppaper.com.